Wednesday 21 September 2011

Bill Brioux

Memories of the Toronto Sun - Bill Brioux 

My memories of the Toronto Sun actually start well before I worked there. Back when I went to U of T, I drew editorial cartoons for The Varsity (where ex-Sun biz columnist Maryana Lewyckyj was a contributor).

After graduation, in the early '80s, I called Andy Donato and arranged to bring in a portfolio of cartoons. I remember he was very friendly and complimentary and then cheerfully pointed out that I was basically asking for his job and showed me the door. That should have been my first clue.

Many years later - 15 or so - Claire Bickley called up and asked if I wanted her job covering TV at the paper. Claire knew me from working press tours together back when I covered the beat for TV Guide. The job wasn’t really hers to give - I had to meet with Kathy Brooks and John Kryk and trick them into hiring me - but things worked out and I’ll always have Claire to thank.

This was the fall of 1999. Already everyone was starting every sentence with, “You should have been here when this place was fun.” Paul Godfrey had already fleeced the place and ran. Quebecor had taken over and folks were so relieved it wasn’t the Star.

Ah, memories.

I was there one week and our little entertainment section was invited to sit in the Sun box for a Leaf game.

“Geez,” I said to Bruce Kirkland, “This is awesome. How often does this happen?”

Kirkland said this was his second time ever. The first time he went they were still called the St. Pats.

The truth was there were always ways to score Leaf tickets and Jays tickets at the Sun. Argo tickets - hell, you got them if you came in late.

A month or so into the job, just before Christmas, we all get called up to the sixth floor. There’s an old dude there shaking hands and handing everyone envelopes stuffed with cash. I felt like Mulroney at an Airbus convention! Then these Sunshine Girls handed everyone brandy in a plastic cup. Later on there was a Christmas bonus in the mail. This place was awesome.

Back then employees were even offered a sabbatical every 10 years. Mine came after seven.

It was especially fun being tucked way back in entertainment. I always thought the Sun got less and less impressive the closer you got to my desk. There was a pretty grand reception area, a fancy staircase, then a series of doors like on Get Smart, then a bunch of people working on old metal desks that had fallen off a truck around 1973. The desks, not the people.

I never even knew there were other sections of the paper. Every now and then I’d spot this red-faced guy who was sort of in charge over there. There was a nice man with a beard who was editor for a while; he used to hand out free submarine sandwiches.

It was a time of great transition at the paper. The first year I arrived, everybody smoked. Two years later, nobody smoked. I missed all the drinking and sex, too. What the hell, I was promised sex with Barbara Amiel (even though she had left the paper by then; it was still supposed to happen). I didn’t even get groped by Valerie Gibson.

Although I did get to interview the Naked News chicks. Any hot babe with a TV show was always gold at the Sun. It was such an adjustment later when I'd send copy to the Canadian Press and see Sun phrases such as "balloon-breasted bimbo Pamela Anderson" changed to "Canadian-born actress Pamela Anderson."

It was great fun camping in that forgotten corner of the office with Claire, Kirkland, Jim Slotek, Liz Braun, Bobby Thompson, Jane Stevenson, John Coulbourn (holy cow could he rip a publicist in two on the phone) and, later, Bill Harris and Steve Tilley. It was like being in detention with all the smart people. Liz made me laugh the entire 90 minutes she came in every day.

The layout guys were pretty cool too. I see half of them now every time I walk into the Star newsroom. Bob Bishop and Derek Tse made that weekend magazine sing; Kryk threw himself into it too. It was the best entertainment magazine in the city no one outside of Sun readers ever saw.

Kathy Brooks was gold, just the best copy editor ever, fixed everything I wrote. If she had edited this she would have taken out the Amiel reference. Beyond that, she was a great listener, a smart cookie and had all those stories. She brought a lot of heart to the place.

Later on, Sherri Wood stole all our hearts and then, so soon, broke them. Boy she was special. I really wanted to see what was going to happen for her next.

Wish I had had more time to get to know Jerry Gladman too, he was always a great read and died with such remarkable courage.

I learned a lot at the Sun and will always be grateful for being given such freedom to find my voice. I have also found there was great value having worked there; it upped my street cred, as the kids say, strengthened my brand.

In some ways, though, I only really felt part of the Sun once I was fired.

That was the little paper I remembered reading as a high school student. Every other day, Peter Worthington would fire Paul Rimstead. I wanted to get fired by Peter Worthington. He would have hired me back. 

Bill Brioux

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  1. Brilliantly written. Some great digs in there too.

  2. As usual, Bill, you nailed it. It was indeed like being in detention with all the cool kids. And we had a very large, public blackboard to write on.

  3. Two guys who should have been given carte blanche to write anything they wanted:
    Bill Brioux and Jim Slotek.

    If the Sun had the brains to hang their hats and guys like that, it might have survived whatever PKP could throw at it.

  4. Many thanks for the kind words, Pat. I entirely agree about Bill, whom I've known for 25 years and who's always been funny as hell. The day we lost him (and others that day) was one of the worst I experienced here.

  5. brioux always wrote a fantastic column and when sun could no longer afford him the paper was no longer readable.but he came from tvguide which at one point was canada's largest mag and now no longer exists in print form....